If anything can lift Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp right now, surely the lure of European football is their best bet. Their triumph in Madrid in 2019 not only meant that the German boss added his name to the great list featuring Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Rafa Benitez, but it also reignited a romanticism that has existed between the city and European football for decades.
With the Reds now well off the pace in the league as they prepare to face RB Leipzig in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday, they are once again turning to Klopp to bring the spark back to Liverpool in Europe.
It has not been an easy journey for Liverpool to reassert themselves on the continent, but ever since Klopp came in, there has been a real affinity between the squad and those special European nights. Jurgen just gets it. In his first season at Anfield he also led the side to the Europa League final with some heroic performances.
The defeat of rivals Manchester United, followed by that famous 4-3 win at Anfield over Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund gave those Liverpool fans some great moments to cherish. Even after losing the final to Sevilla, it was clear they had something to build upon.
A top-four finish the following season saw Champions League football return to Anfield for only the second time in seven years, and it was their run to the final that year which saw them return to the European elite in the eyes of plenty of neutrals. Wins against Porto, Manchester City and Roma took them to the showpiece against Real Madrid, and while we all know how that one ended, the following season was one to remember.
That night against Barcelona summed up exactly what Klopp’s Liverpool are all about, even with all the odds stacked against them they managed to pull off one of the greatest Champions League comebacks we have ever seen. Anfield was sizzling that night, and as the crowd roared them on it became clear that something special was afoot, and not even Lionel Messi could do anything to prevent it. Liverpool were destined to win their sixth crown and duly did so in the Madrid sunshine a few weeks later.
Klopp’s European pedigree is nothing to be sniffed at. He has reached three European finals in four tilts with Liverpool, something that only Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid), Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United), Unai Emery (Sevilla), Marcelo Lippi (Juventus) and Fabio Capello (Milan) have achieved with one club since 1992. That puts him right up there with some of the great managers in modern history, and the man who was so often critiqued for losing finals still knows how to get his team to the main event.
Even when things haven’t been going well in the Premier League for Liverpool, European football has provided an outlet. Nobody remembers their fifth-placed finish under Rafa Benitez in 2005, but everybody recalls the miracle of Istanbul. The late Gerard Houllier led them to UEFA Cup glory along with the FA Cup and League Cup triumphs of 2001 despite only finishing third in the league. And even Klopp’s first season was deemed a good starting point as they contested for a European trophy despite finishing eighth, their joint-lowest top-flight finish since they were relegated in 1954.
Klopp has brought considerable European success to the club in his five-and-a-half years in the job. If Liverpool and Klopp cannot achieve success in this competition, their competition, then there is little hope elsewhere. With every other trophy off the table this season, the Champions League could yet provide their salvation once again.
Unfortunately, they will not be able to rely on a boisterous Anfield crowd to inspire them in the second leg, but perhaps they can rely on their illustrious history and experience in this competition to see them through. They will have to dig deep against Leipzig to avoid consecutive last-16 exits, but in Klopp they have the perfect man for the job.
This is Liverpool, this is Europe. Expect the unexpected and never, ever rule them out.